A Descriptive Account of the Island of Jamaica

A descriptive account of the island of Jamaica with remarks upon the cultivation of sugar-cane, throughout the different seasons of the year, and chiefly considered in a picturesque point of view; also observations and reflections upon what would probably be the consequences of an abolition of the slave-trade, and of the emancipation of the slaves, Vol. I.

With riches derived from his Jamaican sugar plantations and the slavery which supported it, Beckford was noted for his hosting of lavish parties and banquets, and for employing Mozart as his son’s piano teacher. However he lost it all, and wrote “A descriptive account….”, in order to satisfy his creditors, from a cell in Fleet debtors’ prison.

William Beckford. Printed for T. and J. Egerton, Whitehall, 1790. Layton Collection 12887

  • Part “How To” guide on setting up a sugar plantation, part geographical account of the island, and part vehicle to prevent abolition, Beckford attempts to beguile the reader with the notion of a paternal benevolence between master and slave, and an aesthetic beauty in the labour and bondage of a people. Interestingly, deprived of his own liberty, he launches a self-pitying tirade against the British debtors’ prison system, whilst asserting that his own slaves are happy and content in their condition, “… they never having known a land of freedom”.


Back to main resource